Curly hair has been around for centuries, yet it has taken until now, the 21st century, to finally teach each other to accept their natural hair and beautiful curl patterns.
From the beginning, curly hair was always seen as a bad thing to have. Even in Europe, curly hair was worn by those with wealthy families to cascade over their expensive crowns and hair clips, but if you were not wealthy, curly hair was a bad thing. For any commoner, curly hair was always neatly tied up in a bun because curly hair meant that you were sinful or there was evil within you. Curly was demonized for those not of money and was seen as something to hide or be ashamed of.
But, why do some of us have curly hair and others don’t? Why aren’t we all some variation of the same hair type. That would be a lot easier for everyone if we were but of course, we are all different in some way. Each and every one of us comprises different genes that make us stand out from the rest. Why you have curly hair, and are probably reading about it here with us at NaturAll Club, is because of the DNA different areas across the world favor. In Africa, the people’s genes tend to be curly or tight. Asia has mutations that give straight hair, while Europe has mutations that favor wavy or straight hair types. Hair type was always defined as one of the three: African, Asian, or European, today, because of activism and wealth of knowledge, they were broken down into subsections that greatly reflect the diversity of hair we all display and rock in this world.
The Science of Curly Hair
The gene named PRSS53 affects the curliness of one’s hair. The PRSS53 gene will determine the shape of our hair follicles. Straight hair adopts a circular hair follicle, while curly hair follicles resemble that of an oval. If you have bone straight hair, then your hair follicles are perfectly round. The curlier your hair is, the flatter the oval shape of your hair follicle is.
Another factor that affects the curliness of your hair is the way it grows out of your scalp (this also affects why certain hair is drier than others or needs to be washed more often than another hair typer). When your hair follicle grows vertically out of your scalp, you get straight hair. If your hair grows from the skin straight down, that allows for all the secretion of oil (made from the sebum) to come from the scalp freely. This causes oily hair that needs to be washed more often. But, some people’s hair follicles grow from their scalp at an angle. This angle causes gorgeously curled hair but it also leads to dry hair. As the hair follicle is at an angle, it blocks the sebum gland, decreasing the amount of oil your scalp produces, giving you dry hair. While your drier hair types may need to be washed less frequently, it does crave oil and needs to be constantly hydrated.
If you maybe have more wavy hair instead of straight, then that is because of the amount of bonds that your hair shaft has. Your hair shaft contains a protein called keratin, they also contain amino acids cysteines. These amino acids are able to create lasting bonds with each other, that go all the way down your hair shaft. The curlier your hair is, the more bonds you have in your hair shaft. Or as I like to think about it, the more bonds, the bigger the party which equals more fun and curly-kinky hair.
A Timeline of Curly Hair
In the 1500s, curly hair was only something that the wealthy could wear. That continued into the 1600s, where curly powder wigs were all the rave. Yet, if your hair was naturally curly, that was not acceptable. It needed to be straightened. All throughout the 1700s, 1800s, and even the 1900s, curly hair was recognized and worn all over but no one ever had naturally curly hair. The curls were always artificial and those with naturally curly hair were seen as less than.
The late 1930s brought the Power Paddle brush. It was designed to easily and quickly detangle curly hair without damaging the curl patterns or hurting the scalp. If you ever struggled with using the wrong kind of brush or comb to detangle your curly hair and found that all that brushing did was take out all of your hair and leave your scalp sore, then you have John Denman Dean to thank. He made it easier to care for curly hair based on a need for his sister with curly hair. (Sometimes it takes for something to affect other people for them to realize it is something that needs to be done to help.) The good thing is that it allowed for people with curly hair to maintain their curly hair instead of hide it (although straight hair was still the best kind of hair).
When the 1940s rolled around, long and beautiful soft curls were a hairstyle of choice. Made popular by Hollywood stars of the time, women craved these glamorous curls made possible by heat and manipulation. Then came World War 2 and curled long hair was too dangerous for women to wear as they were needed in factory jobs while the men were off at war. So, updos gained popularity as they were thought of as safer, yet women still put curls in their hair even while up and away from the face.
Hollywood actresses made heat treatments for women’s hair more popular in the 1950s, although they were around and widely used in years prior. With stars like Marilyn Monroe and Elizabeth Taylor, everyone wanted those gorgeous curls created from hot rollers and pins. Many women spent hours and lots of money on roller setting their hair to keep up with the Hollywood trend of glamour.
Once the 1960s came, the Black is Beautiful movement reached its full height. Natural hair for Black men and women was the way to go. The bigger the afro the better. Many artists like Nina Simone made it okay to wear naturally curly hair. It was a symbol of pride for who we are and where we came from. It affirmed and embraced ourselves and our hair, making it more acceptable in public spaces to have big naturally curly hair while ignoring the straight hair standard of beauty. Yet, natural hair products were scarce and as we all know, natural hair takes a lot to perfectly maintain.
This trend of bigger is better carried on into the 1970s when disco was all the rave. Lots of hairspray and comb teasing to make hair bigger was the way to go. Black and white people alike sought after the bigger hairstyles. Many viewed the 70s as a time of rejection from the norm. Many people wanted these bigger hairstyles like afros as they went against what their parents had or wanted for their child. The neat and preppy look of the 50s and before was long gone and a new generation was ready to make its mark on the world. If you were one of those who rocked a Diana Ross afro, thank you for being a trendsetter!
If you were someone who wanted the afro but couldn’t quite get the big volume and fluffiness of one, then the 1980s was the best time for you! The 80s brought along the Jheri curl and swept all throughout Black communities everywhere. They were marketed as a low maintenance afro that chemically altered your hair’s cysteine amino acid bonds to create permanent curls. Adorned by Black artists like Lionel Richie, the curly style that took hours to achieve was the way to go throughout the late 70s and into the 80s.
For anyone that didn’t like the long hours it took to set the Jheri curls into their hair or who just didn’t want to chemically change their hair, the 1980s was also a good time for you. In 1984, Ouidad began to make products that were specific to caring for curly hair. Their philosophy revolved around caring for naturally curly hair rather than changing or altering it to make the curly hair more manageable. They classified curly hair into four different types: loose, classic, tight, and kinky. Today, we added many more curl types and curl patterns to assist with caring for every specific curl and coil imaginable. Ouidad made it popular to cater to curly hair people everywhere and this really set the stage for NaturAllistas everywhere! Loving your natural hair became easier because products were finally made for those with kinky-coily curl patterns.
Once the 1990s rolled around, hairstyles were all about that curl! 90s divas and popstars all choose to wear curly hair. From tight heat set curls to crimps (my favorite) curly hair was ‘in.’ Everyone tried to match those of Destiny’s Child and Spice Girls and Mary J. Blige. Everyone home had some kind of heated hair tools to help achieve these looks without going to the salon. No one really cared about all of the damage that those heat tools caused their natural hair. It was all about the end goal of perfect curls and crimps to show off to everyone!
Next came the 2000s, loose curls gained popularity mainly because Gisele Bundchen adorned them while strutting the stage at the Victoria’s Secret Annual Fashion Show. Everyone now wanted soft beach waves to go out in. The Brazilian Blow-Out gained popularity and was viewed as one of the best treatments for naturally curly hair girls everywhere. The Brazilian Blow-Out kept one goal in mind: make curly hair smoother and more manageable while also strengthening and hydrating it through keratin treatments. The only downside was the heat that was needed to obtain this blowout look. Heat damage was inevitable and would cause hair to slow its growth process.
Today, in the 2010s and start of 2020s, natural hair is all the buzz. It has become popular again to leave behind any oppressive treatments and chemicals used to create straight, European-looking hair. In 2015, Dove launched a “Love Your Curls” campaign in hopes of teaching little girls to embrace their naturally curly hair. Also in 2015, NaturAll Club started with using all natural products specific to curly hair types and educating the community about their hair and how to maintain and embrace your natural curl pattern without being apologetic. Many new brands started specifically to help all of us curly hair sisters and social media helped show off our natural hair and make it more mainstream to have naturally curly hair.
Curly Hair Going Forward
Our next steps for the 2020s? Make it socially acceptable to not straighten your hair for work or special events. Embrace every kink and coil of your natural hair no matter if it’s just for going to work, attending a wedding, or anything else in between. Natural hair is beautiful and it’s now our job to make sure the whole world knows it!
As we all know, curly hair is very political. Sadly, it has always been this way. Curls and curly hairstyles were always sought after and desired but to have naturally curly hair was a big no-no. I’m sure you noticed it over the years. Many people are trying their hardest to achieve some kind of curled hairstyle and lust over the natural curls of Black hair but when you go to find a professional job or there is some kind of special occasion, straight hair is expected. It seems like only in Hollywood, curly hair is acceptable, while in real life, straight hair is expected. Many of us were taught to hate our naturally curly hair.. Around eight years old, I got my first perm. My mom said “it was time.” From then on, I pretty much only wore straight hair. My favorite hairstyles were waves or crimps (I’m sort of an old soul). The bigger my hair was, the more fun I thought it was, but I was taught to love my hair being straight.
At one point, I tried to go all natural, but after a little over a year, I got fed up with the constant work and maintenance and the lack of hair care products that I just went back to the creamy crack. Today, there are an abundance of hair care products and companies dedicated specifically to curly hair girls and boys. It’s given me the courage to try going natural again and honestly, with the help and courage from others with naturally curly hair, I am having a blast finding my natural hair type and my curl patterns. So keep on posting pictures of your naturally curly hair online and keep going to work with your defined afros. For as long as you do, us at NaturAll Club will be around to help take care of your curly hair and educate the community.